As you probably know by now, I’m a do-it-myself sort of gal, so when reusable snack bags hit my radar I thought “I can do that! But how do I make it better?
My biggest challenge was the closure. I wasn’t thrilled with snapping bags because Z-Man has a hard time with snaps, and since I’m a mean mom who makes him pack his own lunch he has to have bag he can use by himself. Another concern with snap closures that not many home sewing mamas have a snap press or access to one so they couldn’t make a snapped bag. Nope – snaps were definitely out.
Velcro is another popular closure option for reusable snack bags, but I wasn’t thrilled with it either. First of all, it’s stiff and would be scratchy on the inside. Secondly, velcro attract everything – like lint, crumbs, and other yuckies I don’t want near my kids’ food. But the deciding factor was imagining the boys opening a velcro bag in church: RRRRRIIIIPPPP!!! Talk about public humiliation!
One by one I eliminated several other options: drawstrings don’t close tightly enough for raisins or cheddar bunnies, zippers could have crumb issues, buttons are just dumb… Then I had a brainstorm – plastic sandwich bags!
Old fashioned plastic sandwich bags don’t have any closure, and since they’ve been around forever I figured they must have gotten something right. I grabbed a bag from the cupboard and gave it a thorough inspection.
After just one so-so attempt I figured it out, so without further ado I present:
How to Make a Reusable Snack (or Sandwich) Bag: The Tutorial
Supplies to Make Reusable Snack Bags
- PUL*, nylon, or other waterproof fabric if you want a waterproof layer.
- Cotton fabric for the lining.
- Serger or sewing machine. I used my serger but you could get a similar effect by using an overcast stitch on your sewing machine, or even a zig-zag if you don’t have an overcast stitch.
*PUL hasn’t been approved by the FDA for use with food, which is why I lined my bags with cotton. You could use two layers of cotton or a layer of fleece instead of the PUL if you wish.
Make a Reusable Snack Bag – Step by Step
“By the way, you can also make reusable sandwich bags using the same technique; just cut your fabrics bigger than you would for a reusable snack bag.” Thank you, Captain Obvious, for that public service announcement.
Step 1: Cutting out the Pieces
The cheapie plastic sandwich bags we had measured 6 1/5″ wide and 7 1/5″ tall, but I’d noticed that they were too small for our bread-machine sandwiches so I wanted to make my bags bigger. I’d made a huge chart of common sizes for reusable sandwich and snack bags and had planned to figure out my measurements mathematically, but that was too much work so I decided to just wing it.
For reusable sandwich bags I cut both fabrics about 7.5″ wide, then I cut the PUL about 20 1/4″ long and the cotton lining fabric about 20 3/4″ to 21″ long.
For reusable snack bags I cut both fabrics about 6 1/5″ wide, then the PUL about 16 1/4″ and the cotton lining fabric about 16 3/4″ to 17″ long. Yes, there’s a reason why the cotton lining fabric is longer than the PUL – it’s coming up next.
With right sides together, lay the cotton on top of the PUL, aligning the edges as well as you can. Pin along one of the short sides and serge. You may notice that my fabrics don’t line up perfectly on the right side – that’s the beauty of sewing for yourself, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Besides, the serger trims off that little edge so I don’t stress about cutting perfectly.
2. Create the Folding Pocket Closure
Open the fabrics and flip the lining piece over the serged seam so the fabrics are wrong-sides-together. Line up the short edge opposite from the seam and pin along that edge. The right sides of both the outer and lining fabrics should be facing out. Don’t worry about what the seam is doing right now; it’s probably not lining up the way you expect, but that’s OK.
Smooth the fabric from the pinned edge to the seamed edge. The seam will not line up equally; a little of the lining should show on the PUL half, and will create a little decorative element on the finished bag. Look at the folded-down edge in the photo – see how the lining makes a little border? That’s what you want it to do. You can finger press the cotton so it has a bit of a crease, but don’t use your iron on the PUL – the shiny sides may fuse together and then you’d be in a real pickle.
Creating the “pocket” closure is a bit tricky – think about how the top of a plastic bag is put together… that’s what we’re trying to do.
First fold the bag in half outsides-together with the serged and pinned edges even; serged layer on top and pinned layer on bottom.
Next, fold the serged layer to the inside and pin along the top so it doesn’t unfold on you. I place the fold about 2″ from the raw edge of the other layer; I think it’s easier to measure that way than try to measure the folded part. In this photo you can see the “pocket” part is folded to the inside.
This is what it should look like. Now pin up the sides and you’re ready to serge the sides and top.
You’re almost done!
3. Stitching the Sides
Starting at the bottom fold on one side, serge or sew the raw edge along the side, through all the layers when you get to the folded “pocket” area, across the top edge, and back down the other side to the fold.
To keep your serging from unraveling, you can either pull the loose threads and tie them, or serge over them again – kind of like back-stitching on a sewing machine.
3a. Starting and Finishing a Serged Seam
To secure the beginning of a serged seam, start about an inch from the beginning and serge toward the edge.
Stop when the needles are just over the edge and pull gently on the thread just enough so you can pivot the fabric.
Realign the fabric so you’re starting at the beginning; headed toward the center of the fabric. Serge as you would normally, stitching over the first inch of serging.
When you get to the end of your seam repeat the same steps: stop just over the end of the fabric, pull gently, pivot, realign, serge for about an inch before carefully serging off the edge of the fabric.
This is what the end of the serged seam looks like. If you look carefully you can see both lines of stitching at the corner.
4. Final Steps
Here is your almost-finished reusable snack bag; just one more step to go.
Turn the bag right-side-in, and you’re done! Ta-da!
Using your Reusable Snack Bag
Use your reusable snack bag just like you’d use a plastic sandwich bag: insert food and fold. Here are step-by-step photos for you to follow. I know you’re smart enough to figure it out by yourself but I was taking the photos anyway so I figured I might as well show how to do the folds.
Obviously you put your food inside the bag first; then fold the long edge into the bag. If your food is close to the opening be sure the first layer covers it, otherwise some may fall out.
Turn the folded-down “pocket” piece the one with the lining showing over the open edge, kind of like you’re turning it inside out. I hook my thumbs inside each corner then use my middle fingers to push the corners in and around as I flip the “pocket” over, but I couldn’t use both hands to close the bag and take a photo at the same time.
Smooth out the “pocket” so it lies flat, and that’s it!
Now you can see why the first serged seam didn’t line up evenly; the lining creates a nice little decorative accent on the bag.
If you wanted you could add snaps or velcro under the edge of the “pocket” but I’ve never found it necessary. We’ve been using reusable snack bags for almost six months and the only time things fly out is if the first layer isn’t folded over the food. And that one time the boys used a couple of them as bean bags.
This is one of my experiments: I put the cotton fabric on the outside and the PUL, fabric-side-out on the inside. I don’t like it as well though – I don’t have a good reason, I just don’t.
Here’s a set of reusable bags I made for an “Uncloth Basket” my friend Nicole and I donated to WECA for their basket auction last fall. I also made a set of unpaper towels and mesh produce bags for the basket. Nicole made some cloth napkin and reusable shopping bags. I had some photos of the basket but my computer ate them. Naughty computer!
Here’s our stash of reusable snack and sandwich bags. They’re various sizes because I was trying to get as many out of a width of fabric as I could, and because when I’m making something like this for family use I really don’t care if they’re all the same or not.
To clean your reusable bags simply turn them inside out and wash them with your regular laundry. I often just shake any crumbs out and re-use them several times for crackers and other dry foodstuffs before laundering them.
I hope I’ve inspired you to make your own reusable snack bags – or reusable sandwich bags – and when you do be sure to leave a comment and/or send me a photo.